Interactivity 2012: Children’s museums and maker spaces

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in TechMuse Blog, Technology and Museums, The Museum Learning Experience | 0 comments

Feels like this is the year that it’s all coming together — that a new model for how family-oriented museums relate with their visitors is emerging.  It crystalized for me at the Association of Children’s Museums “reImagining” workshop.  The rise of “maker spaces” — where visitors are given tools and materials for creating cool things — in children’s museums is one of the major means and signs of this change.

Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and the popular Maker Faires spoke last week at the conference. Here are a few phrases that pop out in my notes and my related thoughts:

  • Focus is on “enthusiasts, who love what they do and share it with others.” (an issue for museums: how wide and how deep do we make the interaction? Too wide a focus — the entire general audience — and interactions/projects can’t be very deep.  Helpful to focus on developing a pool of “enthusiasts” rather than trying to catch everyone I think)
  • Enable participants to “create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” (Implication for museums is obvious: develop a framework — exhibit or program — that celebrates what has been created).
  • “Making creates evidence of learning”. (The question about what visitors are “learning” in exhibits has historically been a red herring I think if you’re looking for facts or attitudes. Looking at what they’re making is a much more concrete sign of learning).
  • “More than ‘hands-on’, the world can be made, influenced.” (The calling card for children’s museums for decades has been “hands on” — now we’re ready for the next generation — to make and to influence).

Two museums to keep an eye on: the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and their MakeShop, and at the Exploratrium The Tinkering Studio. Lisa Brahms, research fellow and project lead for Pittsburgh’s MakeShop, described all the positive social interaction in the space — families talking, creating together. These are the types of interactions that for years visitor learning researchers (including Borun, Dierking, and others) have pointed us toward.

I know what I’ll be doing these next months — adapting my storykiosk work to more fully support this maker work in museums.  Building on my trail started nearly five years ago with an installation in Austin Children’s Museum (apparently still running strong in their Tinkerer’s Workshop, recording stories of visitors’ creations)…

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